Dangerous Intersections

Author(s): Betsy Hartmann
Date Published: July 15, 2006
Source: Political Environments #2, Summer 1995

We began the first issue of Political Environments with the image of the Hydra of Fear and Scapegoating in the U.S., the serpent which sprouts new heads of hate as others are slashed off. A year later, it seems the Hydra is more powerful than ever. Not only has the crackdown on poor women, immigrants and people of color intensified, but fundamentalism and fascism pose real threats to the continued existence of the secular democratic state.

To fight back against the Right requires that we not only organize, organize, organize, but also sharpen our analysis and rid ourselves of conventional wisdoms that are unwise. Neo-Malthusian ideology is one of these, for under the umbrella of controlling population growth a host of conservative agendas masquerade as liberal, green and even feminist.

Fear of overpopulation also plays an important role in distorting public consciousness. It is a warped lens through which to view the lives of poor people. It turns them into faceless numbers, breeds racism and sexism, denies history, and reinforces Western parochialism about the Third World. In a sense, neo-Malthusianism is a "divide and conquer" strategy, creating artificial boundaries between people.

"But what about the UN International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo?" one might ask. Wasn't the women's movement victorious in transforming population policy to a women's empowerment/ reproductive health approach? While women's groups undoubtedly made important gains at Cairo, the theory and practice of population control remain as problematic as ever.

No Room for Complacency

The main victors at Cairo were the proponents of the New Population 'Consensus'-NPC (see first issue of Political Environments). This consensus among population agencies, the environmental mainstream, governments and multilaterals largely blames poverty, environmental degradation and political instability on overpopulation, while maintaining that women's empowerment is the key to reducing population growth. At Cairo structural adjustment, 'free trade', consumerism, corporate pollution and militarism were once again let off the hook in the grand call for population stabilization as the cornerstone of sustainable development.

Women's empowerment issues were placed within the population framework, though they came to dominate more of the picture than before. The population establishment acknow-ledged the importance of women's rights for several contradictory reasons.

On the positive side, over two decades of pressure from the international women's movement forced them to make concessions. The best passages of the Cairo Plan of Action relate to gender issues because women's groups fought hard for them to be included. Strategically, the population establishment and many women's groups also recognized the value of an alliance to counter the Vatican and other fundamentalist forces opposed to abortion, birth control and women's rights. (See Asoka Bandarage on the threat posed by fundamentalism.)

On the negative side, the new attention to gender often serves to obscure issues of class, race, and inequalities between North and South. Poor women need to be empowered, but so do poor men, although not in the traditional patriarchal sense.

The New Population Consensus (NPC) largely views women's rights instrumentally-as a means to the end of reducing population growth, rather than as ends in and of themselves. For example, the primary empowerment strategy is to give women greater access to education, since female literacy is often correlated with lower birth rates. Education is also politically safer than advocating land redistribution in favor of poor women, unionization of women workers, etc. Unfortunately, the consensus strategy may be to provide the kind of minimal education which facilitates women's entrance into the low-wage, insecure service sector, the locus of most new jobs.

The other main empowerment strategy is the provision of reproductive health services for women, which not only include family planning, but prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), maternity care, etc. The reproductive health approach is a big step forward from narrow population control programs, and embodies many of the demands made by women's groups. However, a number of contradictions remain.

First, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to implement a reproductive health approach in the current global economic system and in the context of deteriorating public health systems and conditions, the legacy of structural adjustment. (See Dr. Lore on structural adjustment in Kenya.) Also, according to the Cairo document, financial resources are still destined to flow two to one to family planning over reproductive health. In fact, many development activists fear that population assistance will absorb an increasingly higher percentage of already scarce aid expenditures on health and human welfare.

The reproductive health approach also perpetuates the targeting of women, paying little attention to male responsibility for birth control. It continues to define women in terms of their reproductive capacities, not in terms of their general health needs from childhood to old age.

Although the Cairo Plan of Action criticizes coercive population control programs and the use of targets and incentives, it contains no institutional mechanisms to hold population agencies accountable. Indeed, countries which violate human rights are let off the hook with language which guarantees national sovereignty over population policies. (See Kay Johnson on China) Equally troubling, the countries touted as "success stories" by the NPC-e.g. Indonesia and Bangladesh-have systematically employed abusive methods in their family planning programs and have made population control a higher priority than basic health care. Or in the case of Thailand, the population program has ignored STD prevention, with tragic consequences for the spread of HIV/AIDS. (See Cornelia Ann Kammerer.)

It remains to be seen what impact Cairo will have on concrete population programs. (See Amy Higer on USAID) While there is scope-and some hope-for reform, there is no room for complacency. We must also look critically at how Cairo has affected the women's movement. Before and during Cairo a serious division developed between those women's groups and environmental agencies willing to work within a population framework, and those who questioned the fundamental premises of the NPC, particularly the neoliberal economic model upon which it is based. This division still persists.

A further concern is to what extent participation in Cairo and other UN conferences is professionalizing the women's movement, turning it into a tame institutional player, draining its energies and resources, creating even more of a separation between a leadership elite and the grassroots. Gains must ultimately be measured against losses, and new ways found to engage in the politics of reform without robbing the movement of its vitality and radical vision. (See Jael Silliman and Ellen Dorsey on Beijing)

Within the United States, the greatest danger of the NPC lies in its intersection with conservative agendas which scapegoat women and the poor, such as welfare 'reform' (see Julia Scott and Martha Davis), the assault on immigrant rights (see Flavio Risech-Ozeguera), and the reformulation of national security.

The Greening of Hate

In the last months of 1994 the power of the Right reached a new zenith in the U.S. The publication of The Bell Curve marked the resurgence of racist eugenics as a 'legitimate' social discourse, while the passage of Proposition 187 in California launched a full-scale attack on immigrants' rights, presaging a wider assault on affirmative action. At the same time a Republican majority was elected to Congress ready to do the Right's bidding. This quiet violence against people of color, women, and the poor also has more overt manifestations. On December 30 right wing fanatic John Salvi murdered two women workers and wounded seven others at two women's health clinics which also provide abortion services. And now in 1995 the country is reeling from the impact of the Oklahoma City bombing.
Behind these events is a complex web of right-wing organizations and funders, whose interests overlap even if they are not always exactly the same. However, their activity is not limited to traditional conservative circles. The environmental movement is also a key entry point for the mainstreaming and greening of hate.

In the last issue of this newsletter, we talked about the role of Carrying Capacity Network (CCN), Population-Environment Balance and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in promoting an anti-immigrant agenda within the environmental movement. We are continuing to analyze this process along with other groups in the environmental justice and immigrant's rights communities.1 The fall issue of our newsletter will feature several longer pieces on this issue.

At present we would like to highlight the following points:

1. The role of the Pioneer Fund, the major financier of eugenics research in North America, should not be underestimated. The Pioneer Fund supports the eugenics journal Mankind Quarterly, a forum for neo-Nazi style 'scholarship'. The journal supplies much of the false documentation for the eugenic conclusions of The Bell Curve.2 The Pioneer Fund also finances FAIR and the work of Garrett Hardin, the infamous advocate of the worst kind of population control: lifeboat ethics-better to let the poor die than to sink our privileged lifeboat.3
2. Hardin is a major link between population and environment groups and the anti-immigration movement, serving as advisor, for example, to Population-Environment Balance, FAIR and Americans for Immigration Control. Other key links are Paul and Anne Ehrlich, Donald Mann of Negative Population Growth (NPG), and John Tanton, who founded U.S. English, Zero Population Growth and FAIR (see Common Threads, Common Target). In recent months NPG has been putting out expensive, virulent anti-immigration adds in major magazines and newspapers.4

3. Carrying Capacity Network, with a budget of over a million dollars, sponsored Donald Huddle's widely publicized studies, based on erroneous data, which claim that immigrants are a net drain on the economy. CCN appears to have well developed links to the mainstream press and feeds it alarmist articles, such as how the U.S. may run out of food because of population pressures. Virginia Abernethy of CCN promotes the spurious view that scarcity-not improvements in basic living standard-is the best way to reduce birth rates, and argues against humanitarian forms of foreign aid other than family planning. Hardin wrote the introduction to her book.5

4. The funding sources of these organizations vary from more explicitly conservative foundations such as the Laurel Foundation of Cordelia Scaife May, an heiress to the Mellon family fortune, to foundations which finance a more mixed portfolio of environmental and reproductive rights groups. Based on 1992 tax records, Nikki Douglas has identified some of these foundations:6

—Compton Foundation (Californians for Population Stabilization, Center for Immigration Studies)
—S.H. Cowell Foundation (Californians for Population Stabilization, CCN, NPG, Population-Environment Balance, FAIR)
—Leland Fikes Foundation (FAIR and also the controversial quinacrine research of the Center for Research on Population and Security in North Carolina)
—Henry Luce Foundation (FAIR)
—Weeden Foundation (Californians Against Population Increase, Californians for Population Stabilization, CCN, Center for Immigration Studies, FAIR, NPG, Population-Environment Balance)

A key strategic issue is whether foundations which have a mixed portfolio could be persuaded to see the contradiction between their support for reproductive rights and environmental justice groups on the one hand and for the conservative anti-immigrant, anti-women agenda on the other. The liberal veneer of 'population and the environment' serves to mask this contradiction and must be stripped away.

The Right is quite consciously playing the liberal card. FAIR's founder, John Tanton, stated in a 1986 internal memorandum, that issues such as immigration "must be broached by liberals. The conservatives simply cannot do it without tainting the whole subject."7

While much more research is needed on the Right's penetration of the population and environment movement, we also have to monitor how mainstream liberal discourse on national security and development is becoming increasingly neo-Malthusian.

Notes and Resources
1. Jamal Gore and Yin Ling Leung are compiling a directory of Who's Who of the Anti-Immigrant Environmental Groups. Contact Asian Pacific Environmental Network, 1221 Preservation Park Way, 2nd Floor, Oakland, CA. 94612.
2. Charles Lane, "The Tainted Sources of 'The Bell Curve,'" The New York Review of Books, 1 Dec. 1994.
3. See Adam Miller, "Professors of Hate," Rolling Stone, 20 October 1994. In the acknowledgements in his book Living Within Limits, Hardin thanks the Pioneer Fund and its president, Harry Weyher, as well as Cordelia May of the Laurel Foundation and John Tanton. (New York, Oxford University Press, 1993).
4. Nikki Douglas, "Mainstreaming Hate: The Resurgence of Population, Eugenic, and Anti-immigrant Movements in the 1990s," Division III Thesis, Hampshire College, May 1995.
5. Virginia Abernethy, "Optimism and Overpopulation," Atlantic Monthly, December 1994, and Population Politics, New York, Plenum Press, 1993.
6. Douglas, "Mainstreaming Hate."
7. Los Angeles Times, 24 November 1993.